Mon, Jul 02, 2018 - Page 10 News List

As LeBron enters free agency, a joylessness prevails

LEGACY:The NBA’s best player could be on his way out of Cleveland (again), but there is something hollow about his thankless pursuit of Michael Jordan’s six titles

By Les Carpenter  /  The Guardian

LeBron James speaks to the media with a cast on his right hand after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defeat by the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the NBA Finals on June 8 in Cleveland, Ohio. James informed the Cavaliers on Friday that he will not exercise his US$35.6 million contract option, according to multiple reports, making him the top free agent prize.

Photo: AFP

LeBron James, who declined his player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers and became a free agent on Friday, is a superstar in a predicament of his own making. He essentially created the culture of NBA stars teaming up to win championships, one that allowed Kevin Durant to make the Golden State Warriors a dynasty at his own expense. The unfortunate thing for James is he gets no credit.

While Durant is hailed as a selfless hero who stifled his ego to win two titles with the Warriors, LeBron is forever measured against a player from another era, a man who found the perfect team and the perfect coach. The cloud that shrouds LeBron’s legacy at age 32 is that he has not become Michael Jordan.

The constant comparisons between James and Jordan have always felt silly. Though James began his career the autumn after Jordan’s third and final retirement, they are not contemporaries. The NBA has changed significantly since 2004 and LeBron, with height and power, is a different player than Jordan, who was two inches shorter and about 18kg lighter during his career. Still, as the best player of his time, James is constantly measured against Jordan with the ultimate criteria being Jordan’s six NBA titles.

As free agency began this weekend and James can leave the Cleveland Cavaliers once more, his choice is less about basketball and more about defining a legacy. He is forced to make a decision based not on what team will best feature his skills or what city he likes best, but on where he thinks he can win the most titles as fast as possible.

There is something hollow about this artificial pursuit of greatness. Jordan’s six championships with the 1990s Chicago Bulls were organic, the culmination of Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s growth as players and Phil Jackson’s ability to get them to sacrifice scoring for the sake of a broader group goal. Even the Warriors that Durant joined in 2016 have blossomed organically with a core of stars learning to play together so well they became almost unbeatable.

James has never had this luxury. In a society obsessed with trophies and rings, he is left to pursue a series of forced marriages in a frantic scramble to chase down Jordan’s six titles. Some of this is James’s own doing. Already he had the wonderful career narrative of being the kid who grew up outside Cleveland going straight from high school to the hometown Cavaliers. It could have been the thing that defined him forever as the player who stayed home because he loved Cleveland too much to leave.

However, LeBron’s clunky departure in 2010, when he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to build a superteam in Miami, changed the storyline. By throwing together a title machine on the banks of Biscayne Bay he reframed the parameters around which his career would be judged. No longer could he be appreciated for the number of points he scored or the plays he made. From then on he was going to be judged on how many confetti blizzards fall on his head after the season’s final game.

Lost in many minds is the fact James took less money to make Miami work. The only things anyone will remember about his time with the Heat is the way he announced he was going and the fact he won championships in the middle two of his four seasons there. Even the four years of his second Cleveland run will be lumped around the title he finally brought a city had hadn’t seen a championship in five decades.

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